The illusion of mental health as a form of systemic oppression
Mental Health, as an idea, has existed for thousands of years and has since exploded in use, gaining attention from entire government agencies as well as private companies, some of which offer”mental health retreats.” The exact definition for what is good and what is bad Mental Health has proven to be arbitrary enough that it often becomes detrimental for those who get caught up within the system that provides treatment.
Conventional standards of Mental Health indicate that there is a benchmark for what should be the norm of cognitive function, whether it be intelligence, focus, or otherwise. While this concept may be useful for purposes of categorizing individuals for treatment of disease, it is this exact dichotomization that is the source of the invalidation of certain individuals mental function. This dichotomization creates standards of normal and abnormal in which individuals strive for normalcy whether or not they meet the benchmark created by the medical community. Not reaching this standard forces individuals into the category of “mentally disabled” placing them below competent personhood.
Beyond a polarization of the “normal” versus the “abnormal,” Mental Health is continuously being used as an excuse of atrocities of crimes. Take for example the Aurora Shooting of 2012. After killing 12 individuals, James Holmes was prosecuted for the mass shooting with the prosecution seeking the death penalty while the defense plead insanity. The use of insanity here creates a situation in which the crime in itself is not the problem but instead the shooter’s insanity. This problematizes individuals that do not meet the constructed benchmark of normalcy making them less likely to seek treatment for their condition as it has become stigmatized.
This stigmatization in itself is the root cause of the oppressive nature of Mental Health. Currently, an estimated 43.8 million adults in the US have a mental health condition such as depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia. This is no small number and is indicative of the label that has been placed on such individuals. With nearly 20% of the population falling below the benchmark of cognitive normalcy, attaching this form of disability to their personhood functions as a sign of inferiority. It is this universal inferiority that establishes social hierarchies that place any individual that does not meet societal norms below those that do.
Much can be said for the manner in which society has created a systemic oppression towards those below this benchmark. It is important to acknowledge that attempts that are made to reverse these issues may indeed have the opposite effect. Case-in-point is the Americans with Disabilities Act. This act, introduced in 1990 by Republican Senate Leader Bob Dole strove to give equal civil-rights protections to people with disabilities and to guarantee equal opportunities in public accommodation and government services. While theoretically this act should have given equal opportunities to all, quantitative data suggests that it in fact made conditions worse for individuals with disabilities with the number of employed Americans with disabilities going up since the the ADA was enacted. While the ADA targets all forms of disabilities, it proves that this problem of oppression is not legislative but instead societal and thus, the solution is micro instead of macro.
Until there is a critical discourse over the rhetoric surrounding the medical community, issues regarding cognitive differences will continue to exist and treatment for such individuals will be placed on the back burner, not because of the epistemology of medicine but because of the strive for normalcy that is inherent in all individuals whether or not we recognize it. This is not to say that individuals who do not reach this constructed benchmark should not seek treatment but instead it is the moral responsibility of society to reject any form of normalcy that creates superficial differences between people.